Charlie Hebdo and the Risk of Racism

This
week’s tragedy marked France’s second biggest domestic terrorist attack. On
Wednesdays, editors at Charlie Hebdo convened for their weekly meetings
and roundups. The three gunmen supposedly knew this information and planned
their despicable attack accordingly. The aftermath was described as a
“bloodbath” by a staffer who survived. 10 editors, cartoonists, writers and two
police officers were murdered before the attackers escaped. 

After
finding out what happened, I immediately found myself hoping the killers were
not Muslim. Sadly, they were.

This act
of barbarism presents a moment where we must stand in solidarity with
journalists and their right to freedom of speech. It’s also a moment to avoid
empathizing with systemic French fear-mongering and xenophobic politics. We
must recognize the roles of the Muslim community in eliminating parasitic
extremist factors while at the same time rejecting the marginalization of the
majority of French and other Muslims who are overwhelmingly peaceful and well-integrated
citizens in their respective countries. 

I had
the incredible opportunity of living in Paris from late 1999 to 2004. But the
9/11 attacks in 2001 fueled a rise of right-wing anti-immigrat politics, led
by the unabashed Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National. 

In the 2002 elections, Le Pen and his bigoted
ideology that I was too young to fully comprehend were gaining traction, and my
family, midway through our time in France, was genuinely worried. I remember my parents and their immigrants friends
would joke about getting deported if Le Pen won. There was always some truth to
the nervous chuckles. 

Luckily,
my family and I were economically stable and living in Paris proper. Large
numbers of Muslim and black immigrants without a similar economic backing are
forced to live in the banlieues, the
French equivalent of project housing or ghettos. These outskirts resemble areas
in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Detroit where minorities are
socially neglected, segregated from the majority white population and subject
to routine police brutality.

After Wednesday’s
attack, there is a burgeoning possibility that the Front National, now led by
Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine Le Pen, will gain votes and credibility once
again. The party is already enjoying their recent Parliamentary sweep, where
they now hold a third of the seats.

It is
true that there exists a deeply rooted responsibility within the Muslim
community to reform Islam, to question Islam and to try and dismantle barbaric,
patriarchal interpretations that are still somehow conceivable in 2015. One of
the suspects was radicalized in a training camp in Yemen in 2008, where violent
fundamentalist ideologies are still pervasive. However, the minority of
dogmatic religious fanatics does not represent the vast majority of Muslims,
particularly those who live in France, who are striving to integrate into
French society. Take Ahmed Merabet, one of the police officers killed in the
shooting. He was a Muslim, assimilated, making a living and serving a country
he felt he protected and belonged to. 

Thinkers
from the Middle East and North Africa such as Nasr Abu Zayd and Mohammed Arkoun
have been actively and controversially arguing for ways to eradicate extremism.
Extremism does not only deserve condemnation, but a rethinking that helps
dissolve the fundamentalist school of thought in Islam.

But
extremism is not a Muslim-only problem. Let us not forget the terrorism of
Anders Breivik in Norway, who mass murdered leftists in his country for allowing
multiculturalism. He was tried as a normal criminal without public outcry or vicious
government policies targeting white, Christian people systematically as security
threats. Then there’s the bombing of an NAACP building in Colorado that
happened a few days before the Charlie Hebdo attack. The FBI suspects the
bombing to have been an instance of domestic terrorism. Apart from the shameful
lack of coverage, why is it that the label of terrorism isn’t so hastily and
intensely applied as it is with Muslim crimes? 

The Charlie
Hebdo shooting should not propel us to believe in the widely held generalizations about terrorism, which strengthen extremist agendas. The
point of terrorist attacks is to instill fear in order to achieve political
goals, and the cowards who carried out the massacre in Paris have surely
achieved this.

Tough
times lie ahead for Muslims in France and all around the world. I hold my pen as an advocate of freedom of expression. Je Suis Charlie. But if the idea of upholding freedom of
expression in the wake of the attack is to misrepresent and discredit France’s
historic multiculturalism, the terrorists have won. 

Azmi Haroun PZ ’15 is a political studies and MENA Studies major from Seattle, Wash.

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